Pakistan v West Indies, 3rd ODI, Abu Dhabi
50 overs, Pakistan 308 for 6 (Azam 117, Azhar 101, Joseph 2-62) v West Indies
Babar Azam became the third Pakistan player – and eighth overall – to score three consecutive ODI centuries as he top-scored with a 106-ball 117 in Pakistan’s 308 for 6. He put on a run-a-ball 147 for the second wicket with captain Azhar Ali, who scored a century of his own to become the only Pakistan player to score three hundreds as ODI captain.
The two top-order batsmen laid a strong foundation, leaving the side 232 for 2 in the 39th over by the time the partnership was broken, but the rest of the side could not quite capitalise. Pakistan cobbled together only 69 off the last ten overs as the batsmen struggled to generate power as the ball got older. They hit only two boundaries after the 37th over, one of which came off a lazy misfield at deep backward square leg. Nevertheless, a target of 309 should prove challenging for a West Indies team whose batting has been disappointing for most of the tour so far.
Batting first for the third time in the three-match series, Pakistan made an emphatic start, racing to 36 off the first four overs. Opening bowlers Alzarri Joseph and Shannon Gabriel clocked up speeds in excess of 140 kph – Gabriel hit the late 140s several times – but could not quite find the control to match. Width outside off stump and half-volleys on the pads were gratefully accepted by both openers on a flat, true wicket. Sharjeel Khan was characteristically strong square of the wicket, while Azhar showed nice touch, flicking through midwicket, driving down the ground and playing a commanding cut past backward point.
It took the introduction of Kraigg Brathwaite’s offspin, in the fifth over, for West Indies to start applying the brakes. Brathwaite conceded seven off that over with his tight wicket-to-wicket line, and just two off his next. Jason Holder, who had brought himself on at the other end, also kept things relatively tight. But it was the frontline spinners, Sunil Narine and Sulieman Benn, who truly helped West Indies regain control as they stifled the batsmen with their lack of pace and disciplined lines.
Benn was rewarded in his second over when Sharjeel lost patience and hit a well-flighted delivery straight to Joseph at long-on. As the spinners continued to exert the squeeze, Azhar and Babar Azam meandered along, bringing up the team’s 100 in the 20th over.
But as the second-wicket partnership got going, the runs began to flow again. Once Azam was set, he found the gaps with increasing ease. Azhar used the sweep and slog-sweep with great effectiveness against Benn. Pakistan’s second 100 runs came off just 83 balls.
It was Holder who ended the partnership in the 39th over, when Azhar, batting on 101, played a tired heave across the line of a slower ball that clipped the top of off stump. Shoaib Malik was dismissed by Narine next over as West Indies began to pull things back for the second time in the innings, just when Pakistan would have wanted to push on. Azam picked up ones and twos as he approached his century, but, with only three wickets down, Pakistan were struggling to fully capitalise on the formidable launchpad they had established.
Azam departed off the last ball of the 46th over, looking to paddle-sweep a yorker-length ball from Kieron Pollard, only to find his leg stump disturbed. Pakistan were 280 for 4 with four overs remaining. They added 28 off the last four, but there was a certain sense of anticlimax as the late charge towards which they had been building never actually materialised. (ESPNcricinfo)
Sirish Raghavan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo